The state Board of Election Commissioners on Thursday hired Keith Rutledge, the father of Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge, to serve as the board's new executive director.
Rutledge, 73, is a former lawyer, circuit judge and state drug director. The board monitors, educates and assists state and local officials in conducting elections.
The board interviewed four candidates in executive session for the job. Other candidates were Derrick Newby, a Delta AIDS Education and Training Center coordinator; Melinda Allen, a project manager at the Department of Information Systems; and David John, an employee at SFM Entertainment in New York. Allen was the only applicant interviewed to list election experience on her resume.
The meeting was then opened to the public, and Commissioner Stu Soffer made the motion to hire Keith Rutledge.
"We've had private discussions in executive session. I'm not going to allow any public discussion of the matter," said A.J. Kelly, deputy secretary of state and legal counsel. "So we'll go right to a vote."
Kelly was sitting in for his boss, Secretary of State Mark Martin, who is chairman of the board.
The motion passed 5-0 on a voice vote. Commissioners J. Harmon Smith and C.S. Walker abstained.
After the meeting, Kelly declined to comment about why the commission picked Rutledge.
Rutledge will earn a $70,304 annual salary, said Heather McKim, interim director for the commission.
"Apparently, according to state law, if you hire someone who is not a current state employee, they have to come in at the base level salary," she said.
In an interview, Rutledge said he didn't yet have a firm start date but expected to begin work in September. The general election is Nov. 8.
"I know that I'll have to hit the ground running because of elections coming up in a couple months," he said. "I want to make sure that we have open, fair elections so everybody can vote the way they want to."
He said he doesn't see anything wrong with the way elections have been run in the state.
Asked about election experience, he said: "Well, at my age, I've got a lot of experience. I served, back in the day, as county chairman on county election commissions, party officials. I've been a circuit judge a couple times. I've been state drug czar."
Rutledge said election procedures change, but he'll keep up with them. He said the commission has a good staff.
"It's important to have people who have a little history, so you're not reinventing the wheel every time you change director," he said.
In a letter to the board, Allen wrote that she has 12 years of election and management experience. She wrote that she rebuilt election offices from the ground up, completed two redistricting cycles in 2001 and 2011 and said she was highly skilled in "preparing concise training materials and conducting training for election officials."
McKim was hired from the state Republican Party in July to be the deputy director. Her starting salary was $41,159. Then she was given a raise to about $70,000 a year, according to the state transparency website, on her fourth day on the job and made interim director by the board. Justin Clay, the former director, earned $73,151 a year. Thursday, the board didn't discuss what would happen with her salary once Rutledge takes over.
In a statement, Leslie Rutledge said her father taught her what it means to be a public servant.
"He had a simple, yet effective philosophy of always doing the right thing," she said. "It is no surprise to me that he would be selected for the important responsibility of serving as the Director of the State Board of Election Commissioners."
Keith Rutledge said he wants to avoid a situation in which his daughter would have to defend the board in court.
"I'll do a good job, hopefully, and make my daughter proud," he said, laughing. "She's the attorney general, so I don't want to screw it up too much, where they get sued and then she's got to figure it out."
Metro on 08/26/2016